Monday, 19 October 2015

Santa's Stressful Day

Hi everyone!

First of all, apologies for the absence of posts during the past month. I've been settling into my third year at university, and embarking on a new project which will last the duration of this term. Don't worry, The Nausicaa Project will be back in full swing after Christmas!

Santa's Stressful Day:

As part of my final year as a Performance Design student I have to take on the role of designing a college show. For me this is a perfomance called 'Santa's Stressful Day', which is a brass/percussion piece accompanied by a narrative. The story revolves around Santa having a crisis - discovering his reindeer are sick the day before Christmas Eve, and having to travel to different countries in search of other animals to pull the sleigh!

This production has been put on at my college several times with great success, but my involvement will be the introduction of rod puppets to accompany the music and narration. I'm designing and making Santa Claus and the host of animals he encounters on his quest. This includes a Rudolph, a lion and a bunch of guinea pigs. Another girl on my course is making the kangeroo and panda bear.

My puppets have to be ready for rehearsals by the end of November, so I'm already very much underway with making them. 

My process began with gathering research and thinking about how these puppets would look and work. Given that the animals talk and interact with Santa, I decided to take an anthropomorphic approach with their look and function. I felt very much inspired by Disney's Robin Hood (1973), in which the animals are quite obvious animals, but have the mannerisms and two-leggedness of people.

I sketched and painted a lot of ideas for how the animals might look. Here's an early design for the lion:

I like the idea of them having some element of clothing.

The guinea pigs Santa encounters in Peru are dressed in traditional attire in my drawings here. As Santa goes to different countries to look for animals to pull his sleigh, I thought it might be fun to include a stereotypical or traditional element of that country in their appearance.

The aesthetic of the puppet is only half the story - knowing it wil function in the desired way is very important. Taking my 'final designs' in terms of appareance, I drew out scale drawings of the puppets, in order to work out the internal mechanisms.

Due to my small time frame I didn't have time to maquette much, and therefore lots of things have been worked out and changed along the way. This is often the nature of making anyhow!

My original plan was to make jointed legs out of plywood, so I worked out how these would function with cardboard mock-ups.

After carefully drafting out all of the pieces for the arms and legs, I worked out there would be over 100 pieces to cut out on the bandsaw and sand. This would mean needing a lot of plywood and time, neither of which I had! It was a beneficial exercise as I now know how to construct functional wooden puppet limbs, but I worked out a method which would be quick, easy and work just as well.

These limbs are made of PVC pipe and leather. The leather acts as the 'joints' of the puppet, flexible enough to pose but also strong. There are bigger half pieces of pipe on some of the joints that act as stoppers, so the puppet can't pose in an unatural way. For example on elbow joint of the arm there are two pieces of half pipe that meet in the middle, so the arm can bend towards the body but not swing backwards. I don't want my puppets to look like they have dislocated limbs!

This photo shows the basic internal structure of Santa, Rudolph and the Lion. The two plywood spheres mark the shoulders and the pelvis. They will act as formers for building up the body shape. There is rope inbetween the formers to seperate them the correct distance and give the space inbetween some flexibility. The black, corrugated pipe should also create a natural bend in the body. 

The sturdy pipe which grows from this is the rod which operates the head - it can manually be turned by hand so the puppet can look from side to side. The trigger on the white pipe is attached to a lever which connects to the lower jaw, and this makes the mouth open and shut when pressed down. These motions will be controlled through the back of the puppet. The other hand of the puppeteer will control one of the arms on a rod.

Building up the body shape is the next stage. I'm builking out my puppet bodies in upholstery sheet foam, which can be layered up and cut into shape with scissors.

As you can see, the shaping of blue foam can transform plastic tubes and plywood ovals into a very three dimensional puppet! It's incredibly lightweight stuff, which is an added bonus.

The heads of the puppets will also be carved from upholsterty foam. This process is more laborious, as it involves cutting the shape from a rectangle block which is the front and side dimensions of the head.

Once again the foam is very light, so the head adds hardly any weight to the puppet.

I've been making these puppets for the past three weeks, and much of the process has been trial and error! I'm happy with how they're looking so far, and am on schedule to have the bodies ready for fabrication in a couple of weeks time.

Now that I've got my bearings on this project I'm going to endeavour to keep my blog updated on a weekly basis.

Thanks again for reading about my work!